By Tom Hay
I never liked Yates’s. Does anybody? I’ve always assumed it’s just a means to an end, a venue in which bad lager can be cheaply poured into the human head.
As a result, my memories of the one in Leeds (opposite the Merrion Centre) are of packs of hammered people yelling at each other, furniture that gave you backache just by looking at it and carpet straight out of Phoenix Nights.
No wonder Wetherspoons is popular.
Mind you, I never went in the Yates’s on Parliament Street in Harrogate, so perhaps that was lovely. Either way, it closed. Then it became 19 Bar & Grill, which also closed. Now it’s Grape & Graze, a bar-come-restaurant which is going for something classier.
By classier, I mean a big wine list, interesting-sounding food, good beers, nice cocktails and a great decor: lots of dark wood furniture, wooden shelving adorned with with cork stacks and pretty bottles, light bulbs hanging from exposed industrial beams above rustic wood panelling.
Basically, there’s quite a lot of wood. Whoever was in charge of the interior design deserves a pat on the back.
There’s plenty to like about the drinks. The chunky wine list stretches to 40-plus before you’re even got past the reds and whites.
If the cold weather’s making you feel like sinking into something rich, vanilla-spiced and darkly fruity, go for the gorgeous, velvety Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) from Puglia in southern Italy (£18.95).
The beers are pretty good - Goose Island IPA and Brooklyn Lager in bottles set the standard, and there are local ales on draught (though I missed which). And there’s a nice range of cocktails. A Marmalade Martini is a highlight, sharpening up bitter-sweet Seville orange vodka with lemon juice and a touch of martini (£7.95).
Food-wise, it’s more of a mixed bag. The menu’s titular grazing platters also double as starters, making their size an unknown quantity until they arrive. And they’re big. A very hefty plate of breads (£2.95) came with a lovely, lemony aioli and a tasty, smoky houmous – but they were more Asda bakery than Bettys.
Three sweetcorn fritters (£3.95) weren’t crispy, as you might expect, but instead fat pancakes the size of burgers. Too much batter and not enough sweetcorn – still they ate decently enough, and the portion was generous.
A bowl of pork crackling (£3.95) also pretty large, was right on the money. Seriously crispy, gloriously salty and accompanied by a sage-spiked apple compote.
The rest of the menu casts its net appropriately wide for a drinks venue, offering sandwiches, mains, burgers and salads.
The lamb burger’s (£9.95) two chunky patties were, once again, pretty generous, and their ciabatta bun was nice, but the meat was pretty dry.
And a salad of roasted squash, wild mushrooms and blue cheese (£8.95) was genuinely faulty, thanks to a scattering of tough pumpkin seeds which hadn’t been roasted enough (or had been roasted too long ago).
It was like eating nut shell, on a salad whose ingredients just didn’t work together. Mushrooms too wet, squash not sweet enough to balance the cheese, leaves crying out for a more astringent dressing.
Weirdly, though, all that doesn’t put me off. The menu’s not inherently broken, it just needs work. And the good points – the crackling, that aioli – suggest there are the skills available to fix it. It is, after all, fairly early days.
For now, I’d recommend you pop in for a drink, because what it offers on that front is certainly welcome on Parliament Street.
And, at the risk of missing the point of a food review, I’d recommend trying the grazing platters for quantity alone.
l Grape & Graze, 11 Parliament Street, Harrogate. 01423 566277.